'The Town', directed by Ben Affleck, is set in the Boston town of Charlestown, which, as we are informed at the start, is the town with the highest number of bank robberies in the States. We are quickly drawn into the setting, as the opening scene shows a group of ghoulishly-masked robbers violently breaking into a bank, bagging millions of dollars, and taking the bank manager, Claire (Rebecca Hall) hostage. One of the gang seems more human than the rest, and this predictably unfolds to a relationship forming between Doug (Affleck) and Claire.
In the relationship, he finds himself entangled in a delicate web of deceit, and yearns for a Way out of the life he was born into, a life lived with pride, (again from a quote at the start) by most of the criminals. Classy Claire, known as a 'toonie', acts as a foil for the low-down life he is trapped in...his fellow criminal friend, Jim, determined not to let him get away, and who has a hold over him from a prison sentence he served on Doug‘s behalf, the florist owner, the leader of the gang, played by an Irish actor, Pete Postlethwaite, with a really bad Northern accent, Jim’s sister, a messed-up junkie mother, who he sleeps with out of habit than anything else, and his father (Chris Cooper), who is serving life in jail, and who’s brief appearance shows what a poor role model he is. Doug, we see as quite a deep character, one who wants to change, and one who is kind and gentle at heart…he attends AA meetings, and reveals his vulnerability to Claire, when he talks of his estranged mother, who left when he was a young child, and whom he thought he could find, by putting up posters, like when their dog went missing.
The scenes of robbery are very well-executed, very believable, showing their experience very effectively, and the scenes of the car chases are dramatic and convincing.
However, there were a few scenes that I found rather too contrived to fit with the story. When Doug was in the laundromat, Claire ‘just happened’ to ask him for change, then she ‘just happened’ to burst into tears, giving Doug the opportunity that he was seeking to ask her out for a drink. Then, just as they were going for the drink, Claire ‘just happened’ to feel the need to get her recent experience of being taken hostage off her chest.
There is of course, one last robbery that must be undertaken before Doug can hope to become free, and it is on this final heist, in Fenway Park, home to the Red Sox, that his freedom and future ultimately lie. This is a very good device to add to the tension, and inevitably things don’t go as expected. I think this was probably the best possible outcome for the film, if it were to deliver any moral message on the futility and distructivness of crime.
The scene that most stands out for me is that where the gang are dressed up as nuns, whose humorous appearance somehow makes them even more scary. A van-load of armed nuns are stopped just beside an on looking boy, stupefied and understandably aghast. This same gang get the shock, when they think they have ‘got away with it’, and alight the van, only to be left facing a policeman, who in turn is perturbed by such a vision. This playful back-and-forth of unexpected ‘fright’ moments, is very clever in adding to the tension, and also in revealing the extent to which armed robbers (be they disguised as nuns) has become a way of life, and is almost familiar for residents of Charlestown.